It’s with a heavy heart that we write that one of Hawaii’s favorite sons, Montgomery “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani, passed away this morning as a result of complications related to his battle with lung cancer. Buttons was 54 years old.
Like so many other Hawaiian surfing greats, Buttons rode his first wave in Waikiki at the age of 7. The son of an army serviceman and Hawaiian mother, Buttons came of age in the time of Hawaiian greats like Gerry Lopez and Eddie Aikau. In the 1970s, Buttons, along with close friends Larry Bertlemann and Mark Liddell, helped redefine what was possible on a surfboard and ushered the sport into new realms that laid the framework for modern day surfing.
From lineups throughout his hometown in Honolulu, Buttons’ fit frame topped with his trademark fro could be seen performing a gauntlet of new, skate-inspired maneuvers. Whether it was the carving 360, the switchfoot cutty, or the overall spontaneity of his eccentric style, Buttons’ approach in the water was truly ahead of his time.
In a recent interview for SURFER, Buttons credited his inspiration in the water to the famous Dogtown skate scene happening almost 3,000 miles away in California. “I was watching [Tony] Alva, watching Jay Adams, watching them skate and I connected the dots,” he said. “I was doing stuff I couldn’t even dream of doing. I did some crazy things. But you know, brah, I just did stuff that felt good.”
As bright as Buttons’ star shined, it also dimmed when he fell into drugs. Fortunately, through friends, family, and his deep-seeded faith, Buttons found his way to sobriety in 2007 and had remained clean since.
Buttons also found his way back to the lineup and moved to the North Shore where he started a surf school and made a living spreading his aloha and love of surfing to others. He is survived by his wife, eight children and eight grandchildren.